You have no idea how much writing that title hurt. The Cuban Missile Crisis would easily fit in my top 5 events in history…ever! “Thirteen Days” is one of my all-time favourite films (even with Kevin Costner starring!). And even ‘X-Men First Class’ (which I’ve mentioned before) incorporates the event into their storyline in a way that I can’t help but like! But as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder- was it really that big a deal?
This should be a stupid question. The thirteen days of the crisis is commonly known as the closest we have ever come to a nuclear-powered, World War Three. Speak to anyone around at the time, and they remember it vividly.
But although at the time, it appeared to be a really worrying time for people around the world, the truth is that the USSR could hit America with a nuke from their own spheres of influence- placing missiles on Cuba was not about actually using them. It means that we weren’t that close to nuclear war, not really. The Cuban Missile Crisis was about other factors. It was about supporting a satellite state who had been invaded by the US the year before. It was about striking an ideological blow to the US. But the USSR were only successful on one of these counts, and it’s for these reasons that I guess the event is perhaps, possibly… a bit overrated (sob).
Khrushchev was forced to back down. A combination of Kennedy’s calm resolve and pressure from the UN ended the crisis with what appeared to be a US victory. Within two years, Khrushchev was removed from power, and it can be argued that the USSR, and the Cold War, was never the same again. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 63, the Hotline that was established- even with the issues in Germany and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Cold War just wasn’t as big. Perhaps in that sense, it was significant, but not for the reasons most people think. Not to the scale many suggest either. So… maybe it is overrated. Unless I can think of another reason… there must be a reason to justify it’s place of significance in the 20th century?
The best I can come up with is by suggesting that the real winners were actually the Cubans. To gain their “victory”, the US agreed to never again repeat the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco of 1961. This ensured Cuba’s survival, even past their Soviet protectors. Kennedy was assassinated within a year, whereas Fidel Castro (still alive by the way!) led his country until just four years ago. It could probably be argued that without this agreement, the US would have been involved in an attempt to end the Cuban revolution again at some point in the 1960s.
So it is significant, kind of. A high point for Kennedy, a defining moment for the Soviet Union and the securing of the Cuban socialist state. In fact, when you put it like that, perhaps it isn’t so overrated after all!
Want to find out more? How about the Second Missile Crisis that took place, unknown to many- check out the BBC’s article on this!